Value wines of Portugal
I am always on the quest for a great $10 bottle of wine. I mean, it is easy to find great wine for say $20, but $10 is a whole new ballgame. My favorite new place to be wowed by a serious value wine is Portugal.Portugal is steeped in tradition. Mainly because of the importance of Port wine, there are many indigenous grapes, more than 250, which are still grown in Portugal and rarely seen anywhere else in the world. It wasn’t until Portugal joined the European Union in 1986 that wineries making table wine were modernized and money was invested in equipment and in improving the vineyards that Portugal’s table wines, particularly the reds, began to soar in quality.There are three regions that I have been finding some remarkable quality wines for very little money. The Douro, which is famous for producing Port, may also be the best place for dry red table wines. The vineyards are on rocky hillsides of schist. Of the nearly forty grapes allowed, the principal red grapes are the same for Port, touriga nacional, tinta roriz (tempranillo), tinta barroca, tinto cao, touriga francesa, and the spicy grape tinta da barca. These reds range from a light bodied fruity wine about the weight of a Pinot Noir to a hardy, spicy wine full of dense plum and black raspberry flavors. Many of these new producers are using a combination of French oak barrels and stainless steel fermentation to keep the wine lively and accessible young but also to give depth and richness on the palette.The Dao, another of Portugal’s most promising regions for red table wines, began producing remarkably better wines in the 1980s after the government rescinded the law requiring that all grapes grown in the region be sold to cooperatives. These new wines that some young and innovative new producers are bringing to the United States market are just amazing. Of the nearly fifty grapes authorized for use in the region, the best wines are being made from touriga nacional, the predominate grape in Port and also grown in the Douro. The wines from the Dao are similar to those from the Douro but maybe with a bit more earth notes due to the Mediterranean climate caused by the mountain ranges sheltering three sides of the valley.The third region that I recommend investigating specializes in white wine. The Minho, in the far northwest, just below the Spanish border, is one of the most agriculturally productive regions in the country. Vinho Verde, literally green wine, is Portugal’s most popular white table wine and is produced in these fertile green rolling hills. The wine is bright, light, low in alcohol and has just a touch of spritz. The word green refers not to the color, although most of the bottles are green, but to the fact that the wine is young and meant to be drunk young. So immediate is the consumption of Vinho Verde that many wineries do not even bother putting a vintage on the bottle. Vinho Verde can be made from 25 different grapes but the best is made from grapes that are famous over the Spanish border in Galicia, albarino, treixadura, and loureira. These regions produce some very serious wines as well and can rival California or Spain in quality and price. I have been amazed at the quality of some top end dry red wines from some of the Port producers in the Douro. But, for value, I think Portugal is giving regions like Argentina, Spain and South Africa a real run for their money. And since it would not cost you very much to experiment with them, try a little Portuguese wine and tell me what you think.Susanne Johnston is the owner of Frisco Wine Merchant. For more information, contact her at (970) 668-3153, or at Susanne@friscowine.com.
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